The new Destruction Unit album, Negative Feedback Resistor, exists on a twisted middle ground between whiplash-inducing hardcore and mind-melting psych. Each track feels like a micro-journey to a rarely visited, occasionally bleak expanse of your mind. The Arizona crew's new FADER Mix, made by guitarist Jes Aurelius using old cassette tapes, takes a different kind of trip through space and time. Over 68 minutes, it brings us back to the late aughts, when Aurelius was living in DIY venues, booking freaky house shows, and getting way into the "junk electronics and fucked-up rock" that helped define that era's weird underground. The resulting mix is a more explicitly ambient artifact than anything on Negative Feedback Resistor, but its hissing melodies and soulful drones are a nice compliment to some of the record's less obvious metaphysical qualities. Listen below, and then read a conversation with Aurelius about the mix, the LP, and Destruction Unit's "new american heavy underground."
Where do you imagine people listening to this mix?
JES AURELIUS: Hopefully a similar context to where I am now: chilling in a lazy river at a fancy resort, drinking a margarita, enjoying the sun before we leave for Europe in a few days and it gets really cold.
How did you put it together?
I went back to some of the cassette tapes I had picked up over the years from back when I first started getting involved in booking shows and going to shows and playing shows. Going back to some of the stuff that really shaped my interest in music and opened me up to some weirder stuff. Some of the projects in the mix still exist, and some of them have gone on to do other things. A lot of them are good friends of ours, people we've played with, or people who run labels that we've collaborated with. I went through a few different renditions of moving stuff around and trying to figure out how to make it flow. I guess it was pretty easy.
What do these tracks have in common?
From my own perspective, it's indicative of a certain time. A lot of this stuff is from mid 2000s—like 2005 to 2010. It was a cool period of time for weird junk electronics and fucked-up rock music, I guess. I was living in a couple different houses in Tempe around then that did shows that most of these projects in this mix played at. One house was called The Manor, and the other one was called YOBS. I was booking shows, and then eventually playing them. It was kind of around the early formations of what would become Ascetic House, with Alex Jarson who does Body of Light now, Nick Nappa who's in Marshstepper and Destruction Unit with me, and J.R. Nelson, who lived at YOBS and now lives in New York, works at Heaven Street, and does Ascetic House out there.
I was happy to see Psychedelic Horseshit on here.
Those guys are cool. They played a show in Phoenix—I don't even remember how many years ago it was. They ended up staying at my house. One of the guys had a really good collection of celebrities' cell phone numbers to, like, prank call. I remember we got Keith Morris' number, and we also had Greg Ginn's number. We downloaded some kind of voice-changer app. The app is set-up so you can put in the number where it's calling from, so we called Keith Morris from Greg Ginn's phone number. When he answered it, you can tell he knew who it was. We asked him if he wanted to get the original Black Flag lineup back together and he was just like, “No, I don't think I'm gonna do that—you should go to bed.”
Psychedelic Horseshit dubbed their music “shitgaze,” and then that sort of took off and became its own genre. Do you feel like you guys did the same thing with "New American Heavy Underground"?
I should give credit where credit is due: the term was actually coined by CCR Headcleaner, and I liked it, so I adopted it a little bit. I don't know if it's a genre, but it's some sort of scene. There are lots of bands that have developed over the last years in their own communities and their own scenes that have now been exposed to each other from touring and stuff. It's pretty different stuff, but it's all very likeminded, whether it's Salvation and their crew from Philly, or Cult Ritual and Neon Blud from Tampa. Getting their tapes or hearing their music on blogs, and then finally meeting these people and realizing it's all very similar to what you're doing but kind of in their own way—it's reassuring, especially growing up somewhere like Phoenix, where it's so isolated.
Are there any defining sounds within that community?
I would hesitate to define it, but I guess it's just really honest and straightforward music. Whether it's a band from Chicago like Rectal Hygienics, or Ukiah Drag, or Milk Music, or The Men—there's not a single sound, but there's definitely something to it. It's a sort of resurgence of guitar rock, of a classic band format, but it takes it to a new area where it's not rock anymore. It's not traditional guitar music. It's not about riffs or solos or hooks. It's about something more meaty. Something more visceral.
The new Destruction Unit album, Negative Feedback Resistor, is almost entirely hook-less.
For us, it's not about that. It's not about the gratification of a hook or a chorus you can sing along to. It's about digging a little bit deeper, and being more active and having things reveal themselves to you. If you listen actively, or listen enough times, more and more aspects do get revealed. The recordings are dense and layered, but not in the way of just throwing a ton of reverb over everything and making it sound all washed out. You might get different things out of it depending on how you're listening to it or where you're listening to it.
The live show is a seriously powerful experience, and you guys tour a ton. Did you think about how the recordings would translate in that setting?
They're different things, you have to approach them in a different way. But there's also elements that you want them both to have: the urgency and the immediacy and the energy. It's some kind of balance, I guess.
The FADER Mix has a bit of a New Age, mystical tilt to it—and despite its harshness, Negative Feedback Resistor seems to be meditative as well. Do you think it’s an enlightening record?
I think it's a really positive record. I think it deals with challenging subjects, but the goal is to transcend those things, or overcome them. It's not nihilism for the sake of morbid fascination, or something. For me, it can be used as a positive. There's definitely lots of influences whether they're conscious or subconscious that go into it. I've gotten feedback from people that said listening to it has made them extremely productive in their own art, whether it's painting or writing or whatever. Then other people write about it and say it's nihilistic or negative. When you do any kind of artwork and release it publicly, at a certain point it doesn't belong to you anymore. You don't get to control someone's interpretation of it. And I wouldn't want to.
Tent City - Cascade Trinkets
Prince Rama Of Ayodhya - Om Namo Shivaya
High Wolf - Solar System Is My God
Super Minerals - Oxygen Bombs
Caldera Lakes - Silent Something
Andrew Coltrane - Systems And Their Self-Organization Side B
Russian Tsarlag - Community Death Tube
Pheromoans - Cover Blown
Daughters Of The Sun - Ride To Die
Abelar Scout - A.R. Trick
Peaking Lights - 5 Records Skipping Together
Lazy Magnet - Remove The Noose
Vibes - Prisms Of Fame
Pukers - Floral Void
Psychedelic Horseshit - Crystal Dub
Form A Log - Looking Like A Seat
Mandelbrot & Skyy - System R
Dire Wolves - Jams And The Giant Peace B2
Birds Of Delay - Ghost Light
Metal Rouge - Lite Storms
Marble Sky - Behind You Now
The Savage Young Taterbug - Jacking Boy I Never Knew (Demo)